You are here

Why Cite?

The purpose of research is to develop an informed opinion and perspective on your topic that, in turn, can lead to meaningful conversation and insights, whether in written, oral or visual form. it is essential to the critical method that the sources you consulted are acknowledged and documented. This makes clear the literature you reviewed in developing your perspective. In the process, you may also discover analysis and facts that you were not aware of, and this helps you to avoid the pitfall of simplistic thinking. Last but not least, you also improve your own research and writing skills, which results in a stronger presentation.  These are skills that will last you a lifetime.

Plagiarism, on the other hand, is the failure to acknowledge sources. Worst of all is handing in work that is not your own, but copying or paraphrasing the work of others without acknowledgement is also plagiarism. This shows disrespect for a major standard of academic conduct that can result in disciplinary action.

The Process of Citation

The intent of the citation process is to list a resource that you utilized, such as a book, article or website, in an open and transparent way that makes it easy to locate. Thus the citation for a book normally gives such key attributes as:

  • title,  author, place of publication, publisher, date, and page number.

For journals, you would give:

  • journal title, article title, author, volume number, issue number, date, and page numbers. Note that you do not have to list the place of publication.

For government publications, you would list the document in terms of the agency that created it, e.g.:

  • the country, state or province, the ministry, department and/or committee, and so on.

In general, with these kinds of publications, the more bibliographic detail you can provide, the better. The same is true of local or "alternative" publications as well as archival materials, all of which are frequently hard to locate in library collections.

Style Manuals

Style manuals help you to set out your sources and presentation in an organized, logical and consistent way. Below is a sampling of the most important ones:

APA Style Manual. The seventh edition (2020) of this standard publication, used especially in the social sciences, includes recommendations for citing online materials.

Chicago Manual of Style. Now in its 16th edition (2010), this book is the bible for writers, editors and publishers. It is replete with examples and advice on all aspects of form and style.

A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. Kate L. Turabian. This is the classic short form of Chicago style, used in the humanities and social sciences.

MLA Style Manual. Published by the Modern Language Association, this 3rd edition (2008) is the standard resource for scholarly work in the humanities.

The Purdue Online Writing Lab is a terrific website for learning how to cite using the APA and MLA manuals.

Quick Tips

  • Always ask your professor which citation style you should use. 
  • Keep accurate notes on each source you consult.  These notes will ensure that you have all the necessary information needed to create a complete bibliography.  Using an application such as RefWorks will facilitate this process. 
  • When citing information from the internet, be certain to jot down the exact date the item was consulted and bookmark the website.
  • When taking notes from a source, put quotation marks around anything you haven't paraphrased or summarized.  This will ensure that you don't accidentally plagiarize later on when you begin writing your assignment.  For more information, consult the guide titled “How not to plagiarize” (Source: Writing Centre - U of T)
  • Information that falls under common knowledge does not need to be cited.  An example of common knowledge would be that the earth revolves around the sun.
  • To properly paraphrase and summarize, it requires that you thoroughly understand the passage or article you’re reading.  When you don’t fully grasp the concepts presented, it’s best to try and locate another source with similar content presented and/or explained differently.  For more information concerning par